It has been a special, memorable day. Unlike the people who took part in the exuberant celebrations of VE Day seventy-five years ago we have had to celebrate under the restraints of lock-down.
This necessarily quiet day of commemoration has given time for reflection. Many of the scheduled programmes on the TV have been dominated by interviews with ordinary people sharing their experiences of WW2. There has been an opportunity to take part in a two minute silence of remembrance, to hear Winston Churchill’s speech made at 3pm on 8th May, and to close the day with a short, poignant VE Day address by HM Queen Elizabeth II broadcast at 9pm – the same time her father, George VI, spoke to the nation 75 years ago.
The 2nd World War lasted six long years. Ordinary people had to take on responsibilities and roles they would not have chosen, often living away from loved ones, enduring shortages and heartbreaking losses. Thinking about such a lengthy time of severe hardship certainly gives perspective to our seven weeks of lock-down!
My parents were very young at the outbreak of war. My father was born in 1937, he was seven years old on VE Day 1945, my mother was six years old. Their families lived in London. They both have very clear memories of the air raids, running to air raid shelters or hiding under their kitchen tables as bombs exploded in the streets around them. With an adults perspective they can imagine the fear and hardship that their parents went through as they sought to provide for and protect their young children. But my parents memories of WW2 are not saturated with fear. My Dad can think of only one incident when his Mother betrayed her fear to her young family: As they hid in the little dug out air raid shelter at the end of their garden a ‘Doodlebug’ flew overhead, the engine noise stopped and my Dad remembers his Mother throwing herself across the three children in a desperate attempt to protect them from the coming explosion.
With hindsight my Dad is sure his Mum must have shared her food and clothing rations to supplement her childrens’ rations. The children also benefited from kindly Aunts and Uncles who made regular visits bringing their own rations of sweets for the youngsters to enjoy. My Mum remembers her family having to move out of their house when a bomb blast blew out all the glass from the windows. In hindsight she realises some of the difficulties her Mother endured while her husband was away serving as RAF ground crew. A while after VE Day my Mum recalls there was great excitement when the local greengrocer announced a shipment of bananas was on the way. At six years old Mum had never seen a banana let alone tasted one. Everyone told her how good bananas were to eat and she was caught up in the excitement. Oh! The disappointment on tasting the fruit – it was not to her liking at all and yet she couldn’t show her true reaction to her parents and felt compelled to finish it with a smile on her face! To this day she avoids getting close enough even to smell a banana let alone eat one!
While we have not had to endure even a small percentage of the hardships experienced by the wartime generations we are going through a shared time of tragedy the like of which few of us have encountered before. Today it was a great morale booster to hear directly from those who acted with such courage and fortitude during the War and to take part in a local celebration honouring them and those who paid for our freedom with their lives. The neighbours on our street came together (well no nearer than 2 metres together!), decorating houses with bunting and flags and sharing in a front garden/doorstep tea party. It was a lovely opportunity to see one another, to stand at a distance sharing our news and remember the people and events of WW2.